Mar 112013
 

The Vancouver Canucks dropped their 4th straight loss – this one a 4-2 decision to the Minnesota Wild in Minnesota.

I didn’t get a chance to watch this game so instead I relied on some insight from one of my colleagues here at CHB:  Caylie King (@cayking).  Through the magic of WhatsApp, Caylie provided me insight on scoring, fighting, and injuries.

With the Minnesota win, they overtook the Canucks for first place in the Northwest Division for the first time since December 2011.  At that time, I wrote a song called “Under the Minneso” – a spoof of Justin Bieber’s “Under the Mistletoe”.   I’ve included it at the end of this CCC.

 

Mar 052013
 

Cory Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks vs Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks

Photo credit: Sports Network

Last week, the Canucks posted 1 win, sandwiched between 2 losses. They fell short to the Phoenix Coyotes, won a statement game against the Los Angeles Kings, and then travelled to Calgary 2 hours before puck drop and dropped what should have been a sure win against the Flames.

You can say the Canucks had a week that has been typical of their NHL season so far – if there’s one thing this team has shown through their first 21 games, it’s that they’ve been consistent in their inconsistency.

However, there are signs that the team may be awakening from a mid-season slumber. For one thing, Daniel Sedin has slowly moved up the NHL’s scoring ranks; with 15 points in his last 13 games, Danny now sits 21st in league scoring, just 7 points back of 3rd place, Chris Kunitz. (Hands up if you picked Chris Kunitz this high in your hockey pools. Didn’t think so.) Likewise, Henrik Sedin has 15 points in his last 11 games – including 6 multi-point games in his last 10 games – and now has 21 points for the season as well. The twins also did well to push back – physically (!) – against Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and the Kings. Chris Higgins, with 3 goals in his last 4 games, is showing signs of life, and as well, 6’5″, 228 lb. Tom Sestito, with 2 fights in 2 games since being plucked from waivers, has given the Canucks some nastiness in the lineup.

Canucks Record

21 GP, 11-6-4, 26 points (1st in Northwest Division, 3rd in Western Conference)

Who’s Next

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 vs. San Jose Sharks (7:00 PM start)

After starting the season with a 7-0-1 record, the Sharks have cooled off considerably, going 3-6-3 in their last 12 games. Currently, they’re tied for 4th place in the Western Conference, but as we all know, the standings change pretty much on a nightly basis in the wild, wild, West.

In their first meeting of the season back in January, the Sharks beat the Canucks 4-1. Joe Pavelski led the Sharks with 2 goals in that game, while Alex Burrows had the Canucks’ lone goal.

Jumbo Joe Thornton leads the Sharks in assists (18), points (22) and is a team-best plus-5. Patrick Marleau has a team-high 12 goals, including 3 game-winning goals.

Thursday, March 7, 2013 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (4:00 PM)

For the Columbus Blue Jackets, it may be a new year, and they may have some new faces, but unfortunately, they seem to be getting the same results as they always have. With only 6 wins in their first 22 games this season, the Blue Jackets sit at the bottom of the Western Conference.

The Canucks went 3-0-1 against the Blue Jackets last season with Cory Schneider in net for all 3 wins. Something tells me AV’s coin flip will be calling out Schneids name on Thursday. Daniel Sedin had 5 points (3G-2A) in the 4 series games last season. Right now, he’s leading the Canucks with 21 points (8G-13A) in 21 games.

Vinny Prospal, Fedor Tyutin and Mark Letestu all have 12 points to lead the Blue Jackets.

Sunday, March 10, 2013 vs. Minnesota Wild (5:00 PM)

After 3 straight wins last week, a 2.00 GAA and 0.914 save percentage, Niklas Backstrom was named the NHL’s 3rd star of the week. As such, the Wild are breathing down the Canucks’ neck in the Northwest Division – they trail the Canucks by just 2 points now.

In their last game against each other in February, the Canucks won decisively by a score of 4-1. Cory Schneider was in net for that win..

Zach Parise and Dany Heatley lead the team with 8 goals each, while captain Mikko Koivu leads the team with 17 points.

Feb 132013
 

The Canucks and Wild don’t like each other much, but the only real fight tonight was the fight to stay awake while watching it.

The lovely and talented Lizz Moffat has a scholarly obligation and her usual substitute, @lyteforce, is busy riding around the Sky Train in his underwear so you’ve got me tonight!

Ummm… we better just get to the game.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Feb 082013
 

The Canucks are in Minnesota, the second – and last – stop of their mini two-game road trip.

Zach Parise would now like his name to be pronounced ‘Par-easy’. Obviously, everyone makes fun of him for his pronunciation preferences.

Remember when Cody Hodgson tried to correct all of our pronunciations of his last name? Good times.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Feb 072013
 

As the Canucks rack up a few wins in a row, maybe their slow start wasn’t such a slow start after all. In this episode of CHB TV, Ed, Clay, Chris and Chris Palliser from The Beat 94.5 talk about the team’s best start since 2006, goal cellys celebrations, Chris Tanev’s first career goal (an OT game-winner no less), and more.

Feb 042013
 

Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers

I think we’re finally starting to see signs of life from our Vancouver Canucks.

They played this week with some consistency, a lot of physicality, and while they still can’t put the puck in the net as much as they’d like, it’s helped them to a 2-0-1 record.

They started the week with a heartbreaking shootout loss to the LA Kings. The Canucks built a 2-0 lead, but couldn’t convert on the powerplay to put the Kings away, allowing the Kings to come back and steal the game in the shootout.

On Wednesday, the Canucks continued their dominance against the Colorado Avalanche with a tidy, 60-minute effort, Roberto Luongo’s 61st career shutout, and a 3-0 win.

On Friday, they faced the rival Chicago Blackhawks. After an intense lead up, most expected a physical and ugly game, but none of the rough stuff materialized. By the end of it, the Canucks didn’t exact their revenge on Duncan Keith and instead came away with the 2 points. Jordan Schroeder experienced his first big NHL moment as he snuck one past Corey Crawford’s five-hole for the shootout winner in his first shootout attempt.

Record

8 GP, 4-2-2, 10 points (1st in Northwest Division, 3rd in Western Conference)

Who’s Next

Monday, February 4, 2013 at Edmonton Oilers (6:30 PM start)

After being named the NHL’s 3rd Star of the Week, Roberto Luongo will get his 4th consecutive start in goal. Bobby Luo has looked like vintage Luo of late. With great positional play and timing, he seems to be making key saves at key times.

The Oilers, who currently sit in 2nd place in the Northwest Division, won the two teams’ first meeting back in January, so look for the Canucks to come out strong and get some payback.

Sam Gagner (3G-6A) and Taylor Hall (2G-7A) are both tied for the team lead with 9 points. Rookie sensation and the master of cellys, Nail Yakupov, leads the team with 5 goals.

Thursday, February 7, 2013 at Minnesota Wild (5:00 PM)

With the huge off season acquisitions of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, the Minnesota Wild have their sights set on competing for the Northwest division title. Mike Rupp, acquired today from the NY Rangers, will add some veteran savvy and toughness and will join his new team for this game.

Zach Parise leads the team in goals (5) and points (9) in 8 games played.

The Canucks took 10 of a possible 12 points (4-0-2) against the Wild last season. They were led by Daniel Sedin’s 10 points (3G-7A) and plus-2 rating. Kyle Brodziak and Devin Setoguchi led the Wild with 2 goals and 2 assists each.

Saturday, February 9, 2013 vs. Calgary Flames (7:00 PM)

As of this writing, the Flames sit last in the Western Conference, to the surprise of no one, except maybe the Flames.

This will be the second meeting between the two clubs. Two weeks ago at Rogers Arena, the Canucks won in a shootout, paced by Zack Kassian, who scored a goal and the shootout winner.

Alex Tanguay leads the team with 6 points, but it has been the play of Jiri Hudler that has Flames fans excited. Hudler was brought in for top-6 production and he has done exactly that with 5 points (2G-3A) in just 3 games played.

Jan 182013
 

The Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues could be battling for top spot in the Western Conference this season.

Yesterday, we previewed the Eastern Conference. Today – the Western Conference:

1. St. Louis Blues – 60 points

Status: Contender
Goaltending: A-
Defense: A-
Forwards: B-
Coaching: A

Why: The time is now for the Blues, who are strong in all areas and backstopped by one of the best pairings in the league (Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott). A Conference Finals appearance, at the very least, should be expected. Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pieterangelo are among the best young defensemen in the game and eat up minutes on the back end. The addition of rookie winger Vlad Tarasenko should give the Blues three scoring lines with grit.

2. Los Angeles Kings – 58 points

Status: Contender
Goaltending: A+
Defense: B+
Forwards: B
Coaching: B-

Why: The Kings finally played to their potential in last year’s post season, winning the Stanley Cup after a difficult regular season. There’s no reason to expect similar struggles this time around, especially with the lockout-related layoff recharging some of the players’ batteries. An injury to Willie Mitchell hurts somewhat, but should give more icetime to second-year defenseman Slava Voynov, who was the reason L.A. could part with Jack Johnson at last year’s deadline. The Kings are extremely deep at centre, with Anze Kopitar a dominant two-way force (although he’s starting the season with a knee injury). Jonathan Quick was the NHL’s best goalie in 2012, and is supported by Jonathan Bernier, who could easily start for a number of other teams.

3. Vancouver Canucks – 50 points

Status: Decline
Goaltending: A-
Defense: B+
Forwards: B+
Coaching: B-

Why: The window on the Canucks’ Stanley Cup dream is quickly closing. Injuries have rendered Ryan Kesler a question mark, and without him it’s hard to see where the goals will come from beyond the Sedin line. David Booth’s injury also adds to these offensive woes. The team is deep in net, and really needs to move Roberto Luongo as soon as possible to fill gaps up front. The blueline is very solid but unspectacular, with Jason Garrison likely to struggle to repeat last year’s goal-scoring performance. New starting goalie Cory Schneider was the only significant Canuck to spend time playing during the lockout. Expect this team to be slow out of the gate.

4. Detroit Red Wings – 54 points

Status: Decline
Goaltending: B
Defense: C+
Forwards: B
Coaching: A

Why: The Red Wings blueline looks rather suspect, especially when you consider two former Maple Leafs (Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White) will be expected to shoulder top-4 minutes. Actually, the Wings will likely go as far as two youngsters take them: If Brendan Smith can step in and fill some of the offensive void left by Lidstrom’s retirement, that will be a major boost to the team’s fortunes. Similarly, if Damien Brunner can find chemistry with Henrik Zetterberg, it will fill the void left by Jiri Hudler’s departure. Pavel Datsyuk remains an elite player, and Jimmy Howard is a proven commodity in goal.

5. Nashville Predators – 52 points

Status: Status Quo
Goaltending: A
Defense: B
Forwards: C-
Coaching: B-

Why: The Predators will be successful as long as Pekka Rinne remains a top-end goaltender in the NHL. Thankfully, Rinne played throughout the lockout, and should be in top-form right out of the gate. Yes, the loss of Ryan Suter has an impact, but not as much as you may expect, as youngsters Jonathan Blum and especially Roman Josi are ready for additional minutes. Up front, the team is filled with strong skating grinders, with Craig Smith the most likely Predator to experience a bump in offensive performance. This team will never win pretty, and the style of play likely to be found during this shortened season may actually be to their benefit. For what it’s worth, reviews of Sergei Kostitsyn’s play overseas during the lockout were extremely positive.

6. Phoenix Coyotes – 52 points

Status: Status Quo
Goaltending: B
Defense: B
Forwards: D+
Coaching: A

Why: Mike Smith came out of nowhere to dominate between the pipes, lifting the Coyotes all the way to the Western Conference Finals. A similar level of performance should get them safely back into the playoffs, although an injury would be devastating (the drop-off in quality to backup Jason LaBarbera is massive). Oliver Ekman-Larsson was a point per game defenseman in the AHL, and looks ready to assume the mantle left by Niklas Lidstrom as the best Swedish defenseman in the NHL. Nobody squeezes more out of marginal NHL talent on the third and fourth lines than coach Dave Tippett. Steve Sullivan is unlikely to replace the performance of Ray Whitney (off to Dallas), which means the time is now for Mikel Boedker and Martin Hanzal to find their offensive game. In all honesty, the Predators and Coyotes are arguably the same team playing in different coloured jerseys.

7. Chicago Blackhawls – 51 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: D
Defense: A
Forwards: A-
Coaching: C+

Why: The elite talent to be found on the Blackhawks roster – and there’s a lot of it – is held back by questionable goaltending. Corey Crawford was inconsistent in goal last season for Chicago, and Ray Emery wasn’t much better. The defense unit is largely unchanged and should be strong, although Duncan Keith’s play dipped slightly in 2011-12. Up front, Marian Hossa should be ready after a devastating playoff hit from Raffi Torres, and Patrick Kane played very well overseas during the lockout.

8. Minnesota Wild – 49 points

Status: Dogfight for the playoffs
Goaltending: B-
Defense: C
Forwards: C+
Coaching: D+

Why: Since when has spending a lot of money on unrestricted free agents led to on-ice success? Granted, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are huge improvements to the Wild roster, but this remains a work-in-progress lineup. Mikko Koivu should thrive with Parise on his wing, but the real key to the Minnesota attack this year will be the development of Mikael Granlund. If Granlund is Calder Trophy-worthy offensively, that should push the Wild into playoff contention. The defense behind Suter is thin and relatively young, and who knows how he will respond to greater responsibility than what he had in Nashville. Nik Backstrom is better-than-average in goal, but has been injury prone of late. His backup – Josh Harding – also has injury issues and was diagnosed with MS in October. Raised expectations and a slow start could cost coach Mike Yeo his job.

9. Edmonton Oilers – 49 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: C-
Defense: C
Forwards: C+
Coaching: C-

Why: Let’s be clear – on paper, right now, it’s hard to see the Oilers as a playoff team. However it’s very likely they will improve upon every grade listed above over the course of the season. That’s what happens when young teams develop and get better. It should also be noted that only the Flyers had more players active during the lockout than the Oilers. Rookie Jeff Schultz has dominated the AHL, and could be the most exciting rookie defenseman to hit the NHL since Sergei Zubov. NHL-calibre play from the rookie Schultz, and injury-free play from Ryan Whitney, will give a significant boost to the Oiler blueline. Meanwhile, the team is loaded with offensive talent up front. Jordan Eberle, in particular, looks like he might be ready to join elite status. Finally, there isn’t a more respected coach internationally than Ralph Krueger. If he lives up to his reputation, it’s just one more reason why the Oilers can make the playoffs.

10. San Jose Sharks – 49 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: C
Defense: A-
Forwards: C+
Coaching: C

Why: The Sharks nucleus remains formidable, but beyond Logan Couture, it is also aging, with the best days behind Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau. San Jose remains a team with a good top-six and a sketchy bottom six group of forwards. The blueline is the team’s strength. Brent Burns is still recovering from off-season surgery and had a disappointing first season on the West Coast, but has the talent to be a solid #2 defenseman. Brad Stuart and Doug Murray are solid defensively, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic is underrated. In goal, Antti Niemi continues his history of inconsistent play, and may be pushed by backup Thomas Greiss.

11. Dallas Stars – 46 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: A-
Defense: C
Forwards: C+
Coaching: C-

Why: The Stars have rolled the dice in the off-season, loading up with aged veterans Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr in efforts to get the team back into the playoffs. It’s quite possible this strategy could blow up in the team’s face, as older players will have their energy and bodies taxed during the shortened season. Top-line forward Jaime Benn is also sitting out with a contract dispute, making it even more likely the Stars get off to a poor start. The blueline is thin, although Alex Goligoski has untapped potential as a puck-mover. The key then is how well Kari Lehtonen can play, and how healthy he can remain. Lehtonen was Vezina-calbire last season.

12. Anaheim Ducks – 44 points

Status: Also-rans
Goaltending: C+
Defense: C
Forwards: B
Coaching: C-

Why: Like their state rivals in San Jose, the Anaheim Ducks boast a very solid offensive nucleus in their top two lines (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne) but little depth beyond that upfront. The hope is rookies Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmieri and Devante Smith-Pelly can fill the talent gap, but that’s asking a lot (especially Smith-Pelly, who hasn’t shown much in the AHL). The addition of Scott Niedermayer as an assistant coach is hoped to help the stalled development of Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa. They must improve to support what is otherwise a slow-footed, veteran blueline. In net, Jonas Hiller had a poor 2011-12 and must rebound for the Ducks to get into the playoff race. A slow start could see some major changes to the roster, not to mention coach and management.

13. Calgary Flames – 43 points

Status: Also-rans
Goaltending: B+
Defense: C+
Forwards: C-
Coaching: C-

Why: There’s just not enough talent on this roster to win a playoff spot, which means it will take a superhuman season from Miikka Kiprusoff to get the Flames to the post-season. At his age (36) that’s a lot to ask. Meanwhile, the team’s best player, Jarome Iginla, has already suffered a groin injury and has a lot of wear and tear on his 35-year old body. The additions of Jiri Hudler, Roman Cervenka (out with a blood clot) and Dennis Wideman are band-aid solutions to solving some of the offensive issues that have plagued the team recently. You can question each players’ willingness to compete and they’re likely to be found in Bob Hartley’s doghouse at some point. In fact, a poor start to the short Flames season could see both Kiprusoff and Iginla finally dealt, in efforts to better secure the team’s future.

14. Colorado Avalanche – 41 points

Status: Wild Card
Goaltending: B
Defense: D
Forwards: C
Coaching: C-

Why: Whereas the Capitals are the biggest question mark in the Eastern Conference, welcome to the biggest question mark in the West. They could win the division; they could end up in last place. The Avalanche certainly feature talented young forwards up front (Matt Duchesne, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Statsny), but the contract dispute with Ryan O’Reilly is a significant blow. He’s the team’s best two-way player – Colorado’s version of Ryan Kesler – and without him there’s a significant lack of grit and defensive acumen amongst the forward group. The defense looks like a mess. Erik Johnson is still struggling to find a consistent, top-level NHL game. Rookies Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott may be asked to add speed and puck-movement to a sluggish blueline, but both play a high-risk game. Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere are a goaltending duo with strong potential but prone to streakiness. Keep in mind – only 5 Avs players were active during the lockout.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets – 38 points

Status: Rebuilding
Goaltending: D-
Defense: C
Forwards: D
Coaching: D+

Why: Essentially, the Blue Jackets have blown themselves up by trading Rick Nash, and are starting from scratch in terms of building a winner. They’re going about it the right way this time, with a focus on building from the net out. They could be better than they’re rated here. Sergei Bobrovsky was lights-out during the lockout in the KHL and has high-end potential. A strong season from him would be the first strong goaltending season Columbus has had in years. On defense, Jack Johnson played very well after being dealt from the Kings, as did Nikita Nikitin (from St. Louis). Add James Wisniewski to the equation and suddenly you have a mobile, solid puck-moving top-three. It’s in their own zone where there could be problems. The biggest hole is up front on offense, where youngster Cam Atkinson looks primed to break out. There’s some decent grit and speed in the mix, but goals will be very hard to come by.

Jan 012013
 
Bure Scores Another Goal

Photo credit: The Canadian Press – Dave Buston

After trying out Tom’s Rum & Egg Nog recipe last night and getting your New Years Eve party on, we here at CHB thought we would regale you with more thoughts & prognostications on what we think is in store for the Canucks in 2013.

Matt Lee (@mattlee61)

Which brings about what to expect in 2013. Will there be a shortened 48-game season? My guess is yes; I’m an optimist by nature and I think both the owners and players would hate to see another full season flushed down the toilet. But the journey to this point has been like a roller coaster; one very ugly, scary, and sickening roller coaster you can never get off of.

If there’s a season, I’m looking forward to it. Instead of writing what to expect, here’s a brief list of questions I’m interested in seeing answered:

  1. Will Cory Schneider be able to handle a season as the new king of the Canucks crease?
  2. Can Jason Garrison and Zack Kassian live up to the monumental expectations placed upon them as new arrivals?
  3. What version of Ryan Kesler will show up when he returns? The guy who called himself “Bull” in his early days, or the player we saw flopping his way to a first round playoff exit?
  4. Are the Canucks going to retire Pavel Bure’s #10 or has that ship sailed?
  5. Will the Sedin twins production soar or sag after a lengthy layoff?

Anyone have a crystal ball?

Victoria Pattison (@concretefluff)

As for 2013, I can see the Canucks being undefeated for the first half of January (hahaha, had to be said!).

In all seriousness, I don’t see anything happening for the Canucks in 2013 because I don’t see the lockout ending in time. If the hockey Gods’ pull out a miracle and there is a season, my money is on the Canucks to win the Cup. A season this short would leave no room for burnout and hopefully less chance for injuries (I’m looking at you Ryan Kesler), which, in my opinion, has been the Canucks biggest problems.

But to be very honest here, I don’t want the Canucks to win the Cup on a short season. Because, as some of you know, I married the biggest Canucks hater on the planet and if we win the Cup on a shortened lockout season all I will hear for the rest of my life is “It doesn’t count because the season was short”. I know it’s selfish but I would rather avoid divorce than win a Cup on a short season.

Clay Imoo (@canuckclay)

What can Canucks fans look forward to in 2013?

Firstly, I truly believe that there will still be a 2012-2013 (well technically 2013) season. Having said that, I think the shortened season will work towards the Canucks’ advantage. They can’t afford a slow start as a losing streak of 4 or 5 games could conceivably put them out of the playoffs early. There is enough veteran leadership to hopefully help the team get out of the gates quickly.

I’m very interested in what becomes of Roberto Luongo. Does he turn into a second-line centre? Perhaps a couple of depth players? A prospect or two? Luongo’s fate will undoubtedly be the biggest story surrounding the team until something is done. Thus, the Canucks will need to rely on their veteran leadership to help the team remain focused on the task at hand: a strong start in a shortened season.

Look for the Canucks to hold off the improved Minnesota Wild and surging Edmonton Oilers to secure yet another Northwest Division title.

Ed Lau (@edlau)

2013 looks to be a big year with the Olympics of competitive facial hair growing, the World Beard and Moustache Championships held in Germany. Will Wolfgang Schneider use home field to his advantage to defend his natural moustache crown? Can Evan Gillespie of Canada take the championship away from freestyle moustache juggernaut Keith “Gandhi Jones” Haubrich? Will we see a surprise in the Fu Manchu division, which is always a bloodbath, and we never know what to expect from the freestyle sideburns guys…those dudes are crazy.

Controversy surrounds the full beard group after the performance enhancing drugs scandal that shocked the world in 2012 but the bans allow for new stars to emerge. Personally, I predict that Elmar Weisser will take Best in Show all over again although no word yet on what his beard will be shaped like for 2013. He hasn’t yet responded to my repeated suggestion do one inspired by The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song, complete with dice in the taxi’s mirror and guys up to no good spinning Will Smith around their heads.

No word on whether there will be an NHL season in 2013 but who needs it when there’s all this competitive bearding going on?

Apr 042012
 

With 98% of the NHL season behind us, it’s time to fill in an imaginary awards ballot.

But before we get to that, let’s take a moment to consider two more dead teams:

Calgary Flames

What went wrong: No team had an easier stretch drive schedule among teams fighting for the last Western Conference playoff spots than the Flames did. They failed to reach the post season because they couldn’t score. The Flames as a team are currently 25th in shots on goal per game. They’re 3-9 in shootouts, rivalling Montreal (5-11) and Carolina (0-6) for the league’s worst record in the skills competition. Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross will finish the year as the team’s lone 20-goal scorers. None of them are consistent (Iginla’s slow starts have become legendary). Calgary sits last in the league in faceoff performance.

What went right: Mikka Kiprusoff carried the team all season with stellar play between the pipes. When finally healthy for the second-half Mark Giordano played well. He has 16 points after the All-Star break and has helped Calgary reach 11th in the NHL on the powerplay. Mike Cammalleri has struggled to stay healthy with the Flames but when dressed has scored at a 30-goal pace.

Off-Season Gameplan: It’s been said in this space more than once, but this aging Calgary team desperately needs a rebuild. After three years of missing the playoffs there’s clearly not enough talent in the lineup to reach the post-season. There isn’t enough organizational depth right now either to create hope for better days in the future. This may the last chance Calgary gets to shop Jarome Iginla before seeing his value depreciate completely on the marketplace.

Winnipeg Jets

What went wrong: There was lots of talk pre-season about what the travel schedule would do to not only the Jets, but other teams in the Southeast Division. Clearly it was a factor for the Manitoba team, as Winnipeg has put together a terrible road record (13-21-5). The penalty kill is below 80%, which hurts a team that’s short-handed a lot (25th worst). As well as Ondrej Pavelec has been at times this season, he tired down the stretch (3.13 goals against in March) and currently ranks 57th in the league in save percentage (.906). Alex Burmistrov was improved this season, but his offensive progression has been slow (just 28 points in year two). Eric Fehr (3 points, 35 games) was a bust, while Tanner Glass (-12) was asked to do too much.

What went right: Blake Wheeler (61 points) and Evander Kane (29 goals) have taken steps forward as top-six, even top-line players. Dustin Byfuglien has had a strong second-half. Off the scrap-heap, Kyle Wellwood has been an effective offensive player (47 points despite just 14:57 per game in ice-time). The MTS Centre has proven to be one of the few home-ice advantages left in the NHL.

Off-Season Gameplan: Continue to build around a very solid core. Veteran depth, particularly the type that could improve the defensive side of Winnipeg’s game, would be helpful. Mark Scheifele will get the Burmistrov treatment next year. If Scheifele’s ready, he could supply enough offense to bring the playoffs back to Manitoba.

***

Now with that little bit of ugly business out of the way, let’s take a quick look at who deserves award recognition for the 2011-2012 NHL season.

Hart Trophy – Evgeni Malkin

Runners-up: Jason Spezza; Henrik Lundqvist

Malkin has been arguably the league’s best player this year. Lundqvist is probably the most valuable, but goalies rarely win this award. A Hart nomination is the feather-in-the-cap to a marvellous season from Jason Spezza.

Norris Trophy – Zdeno Chara

Runners-up: Alex Pieterangelo; Erik Karlsson

Chara wins because he’s put forth his strongest offensive season while retaining defensive dominance (+33 leads all d-men). Karlsson’s had a magical season but his defensive play remains average. Under Ken Hitchcock, Alex Pieterangelo has arrived, breaking the 50-point barrier but more importantly playing extremely well defensively night in, night out.

Vezina Trophy – Henrik Lundqvist

Runners-up: Jonathan Quick; Mike Smith

The Rangers success gives Lundqvist the nod over Quick, whose Los Angeles Kings team have been in a playoff dogfight all season. Mike Smith’s career rejuvenation in Phoenix gives him a slight edge over the two St. Louis Blues goalies (Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott) who’ve split too much playing time to be considered.

Selke Trophy – Patrice Bergeron

Runners-up: David Backes; Anze Kopitar

Bergeron wins almost 60% of his draws and is one of the league’s premiere penalty killers. Backes has flourished under Ken Hitchcock, leading Blues forwards in goals, points, hits and blocked shots. Kopitar deserves greater recognition, is leading the Kings in points once again but, more importantly to this category, has been Los Angeles best defensive player as well.

Calder Trophy – Gabriel Landeskog

Runners-up: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; Matt Read

Not only is Landeskog tied for the rookie points lead, but he’s an incredible +23 and has played in all situations for the Avs down the stretch. He’s a future captain. Nugent-Hopkins is the most offensively-gifted rookie, but injuries have prevented him from running away with the freshman scoring crown. Matt Read leads all rookies in goals and has become an important player in the Flyers lineup.

Adams Trophy – Ken Hitchcock

Runners-up: Paul Maclean; John Tortorella

Hitchcock’s turned a middle-of-the-pack team into arguably the best team in the Western Conference. Paul Maclean has done wonders in Ottawa, taking a Sens team destined for a lottery pick into the playoffs. Tortorella’s nomination is a reward for guiding a team that’s out-performed its roster’s talent level all season.

 THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Another take on possible NHL awards, this one from ESPN.
  • Let’s just get this out of the way: Mike Milbury was a joke as a general manager and he’s a joke as a commentator. His take on league affairs is almost always neanderthal and ultra-traditionalist. Attacking Sidney Crosby gets your name in the paper though.
  • This definitely should be on any list of craziest goals of the year. It also epitomizes the difference in heart between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.
  • At this point, wouldn’t it be for the best for everyone if the Washington Capitals missed the playoffs, fired their coach, and re-built their approach around Ovechkin’s offense than see the gutsy Sabres (one of the best teams in the NHL since the All-Star Game) come up short?
  • Quietly, Willie Mitchell’s having one of the best defensive defenseman seasons in the NHL this year. Granted, the ultra-conservative Kings gameplay helps in that regard.
  • Still without a contract, you have to expect the Edmonton Oilers are ready to walk away from Tom Renney. The talk is Todd Nelson, coach of Edmonton’s AHL farm team, will get a long look. Hard to believe he’s the guy who can take this young team to the next level.
  • It’s a small sample size, but the Nashville Predators are 4-3 in Alex Radulov’s seven games. The big Russian has 3 goals, 6 points in that span and has fit extremely well into the lineup.
  • For all of those people ready to anoint the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh, let’s acknowledge the fact that the Penguins are actually 25th in the NHL in team save percentage. Marc-Andre Fleury, not Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby, will have the biggest say in how far the Penguins go in the playoffs.
  • Speaking of which, the Chicago Blackhawks, for what it’s worth, are 27th in the NHL in team save percentage. Numbers-wise, Chicago’s entering the post-season with the worst goaltending amongst remaining teams.
  • Some other interesting Pre/Post-All-Star Game numbers: Winnipeg was 22nd in league scoring during the first half; 3rd so far in the second half. Buffalo was 25th in the first-half; 5th in the second half. Going the other way, Vancouver was 3rd in the first half scoring-wise; 15th in the second half. Washington was 9th in the first half; 26th in the second half.
  • Defensively, the Bruins have gone from 4th in the first half to 22nd in the second half. Minnesota from 8th in the first half to 25th and Pittsburgh from 10th to 23rd. Improving their defensive play in the second half were teams like Buffalo (26th to 7th), Anaheim (23rd to 8th), Colorado (21st to 5th) and Ottawa (27th to 13th).
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